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Healing the Roots of Self Hatred

By Francesca Starr, Ph.D.

The Critic is a universal and punishing constant in our inner lives. This internalized voice assumes the tone and language of the judgmental, shaming aspects of our parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, peers, religion, and society. After every step we take, there it is, doubting or damning our choice. For many people, “critic” is too mild a word. The voice they hear is relentless, a vicious screaming monster that cripples and controls. They might call their voice the “Self-Hater” or the “Killer Critic.”

Not everyone hears self-hatred or criticism as a voice in their heads. Sometimes, we must look at our way of being or repetitive patterns in our lives to reveal the trail of damage left by the Critic’s attacks.

Some of these may include:
low self-esteem, lack of confidence, repetitive failure in relationships or jobs, depression (suicidal ideation) and anxiety, attempts to prove worthiness by being perfect or through high achievement, physical and emotional illness, addictions, being drawn again and again into abusive situations.

Where Does the Critic Come From? What is its Job?

A Protector
In Embracing Your Inner Critic, Hal and Sidra Stone write that the Inner Critic is born to protect us from the brutal pain and shame of childhood; of always being found “less than, never good enough, not wanted, stupid, etc.” The Critic’s believes, “It is always better that I criticize you and cause you to change your behavior before the real judges (parents, etc.) come and punish you.”

The Critic maintains a list of the rules of our authority figures, school, church, culture. We develop characteristics and behaviors that attempt to live by these rules (Primary Selves). If we even think of behaving differently (express the opposite or Disowned Selves), the Critic goes into a rage believing that we will be hurt again. Jane developed a Perfectionist Self with the hope that her parents would have little reason to shame and verbally abuse her. Even into adulthood her Critic watches for any hint of imperfection and attacks her viciously (like her parents did) to get her to meet the standards set by her Perfectionist.

How Can I Get It to SHUT UP?
Bottom line: you can’t. We have tried to argue, fight with, ignore, or get rid of the Inner Critic. Most would attest to the futility of those tactics. Here, instead, are some strategies that have helped others:

Meditation. During meditation you develop the capacity to observe, without judgment, the many inner selves, as they make themselves known to you. By nurturing this more conscious state through meditation and mindfulness exercises, you begin to objectively listen to your Critic, without being at the effect of it. This indispensable “separation” or detachment enables a huge step forward in dealing with your Critic. Instead of saying: “I am so stupid!” “I’m a failure and I’ll never amount to anything!” “No one will ever love me!”, you grow your ability to recognize that your Critic is operating. Then, you start to name it! “It isn’t that I am stupid, my Critic thinks I’m stupid.” “My Critic thinks no one will love me.” When you name the Critic – there are two of you!

Understanding the Message Beneath. Hal and Sidra Stone recommend dialoguing with your Inner Critic in order to understand: 1) what the Critic is trying to tell you; 2) what are its underlying concerns (“If John stops to rest or stops working he will lose his job! Then his family and friends will be ashamed of him and reject him. He’ll lose everything and he’ll end up on the streets, broke and dead!” and 3) what are the Disowned Selves the Critic is inadvertently pointing to that need to be more integrated into your life. Voice Dialogue, with a trained facilitator, is one of the most successful avenues to this direct, respectful access to your Critic.

The goal in these strategies is not to silence the Critic, but to transform your relationship to it.

To learn more about the Inner Critic:

Read Francesca’s article, “Taming Your Inner Critic: from Dream Killer to Visionary”

Read the Stone’s seminal book, “Embracing Your Inner Critic”


Francesca Starr, Ph.D., CPC
Certified Professional Coach, Post Graduate Voice Dialogue Training with Drs. Hal and Sidra Stone (Creators of Voice Dialogue), Ph.D. Counseling Psychology, MA Transpersonal Psychology, MA Education. Francesca brings finely honed skills and knowledge from previous careers (1. education, 2. business, and 3. counseling) to her passion as a Voice Dialogue Coach and Trainer. Gentle conversations with your Inner Selves that transform your life. Inspired, breakthrough coaching to resolve life and work issues, generate conscious choice and creative action, and evolve consciousness.